Did China’s New Assassin Mace Missile Just Make Aircraft Carriers As Obsolete As Battleships?

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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China’s military just revealed a never-before-seen hypersonic missile informally known as the assassin’s mace, which reportedly can travel up to 10 times the speed of sound.

Without an adequate counter, the highly anticipated Dongfeng 21D missile may sink the U.S. Navy’s heavy reliance on aircraft carriers by making them as obsolete as battleships, which fell out of favor after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The Dongfeng 21D missile made an appearance at the military parade in Beijing Thursday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II, The Fiscal Times reports. China brought 12,000 troops and an assortment of aircraft, missiles and tanks to bear for the demonstration. A total of 84 percent of weaponry was totally new.

Aside from stating that the weapon existed and was under development, China’s Minister of Defense didn’t utter a word about the DF-21D “carrier-killer” missile until the parade.

What’s notable about the DF-21D is that once it launches into orbit and reenters the atmosphere, intercepting the missile becomes virtually impossible, as it travels at hypersonic speeds.

The missile takes about 15 minutes from launch until it hits the target, with a reported range of 1,000 miles, which is far superior to any cruise missile.

“There is more potent symbolism in this missile than any other weapon in the Chinese arsenal,” Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, told Financial Times. “This is the missile that really does potentially encroach on US capability to deploy military power close to Chinese shores. It significantly raises the risks and costs.”

In turn, the U.S. has been frantically working on ship-borne anti-ballistic missile technology, including electronic warfare to block ballistic missile communication systems, since after the DF-21D enters the atmosphere, it requires active guidance to see it all the way to the target. Simply moving an aircraft carrier once the missile is detected is likely an insufficient response move.

And the number of DF-21Ds could easily outnumber carriers in the U.S. fleet. For starters, China can purchase 1,200 carrier-killers for the price of a single aircraft carrier, which could force a shift in U.S. naval strategy. The U.S. Navy heavily leans on aircraft carriers for its operations.

President Xi Jinping also took the opportunity of the parade to make a stunning announcement: the Chinese military intends to cut 300,000 troops from the force, though defense spending in general is on the rise and will hit $260 billion by 2020—double the figure of $134 billion in 2010. This is less an indication of loss than one of transition. Jinping wants to consolidate the military under a U.S.-style joint command structure to integrate the various services.

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